Category Archives: Battlefield Tours

Petersburg

I remain behind with my posts but before I get further behind I will post a few photos on Petersburg. I was rather enjoyed following Grant’s Overland Campaign, which started at the Widerness and included battles at Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna and Cold Harbor. I visited three of these four yet have yet to post two photo reports. Instead I’ll skip ahead to Petersburg my most recent battlefield.

You are probably aware of the history of the Overland Campaign, but in brief terms Grant refused to go away and after the Wilderness, ignoring heavy casualties, he kept slowly moving towards Richmond until he was northeast at Cold Harbor. Despite further heavy casualties, with no gain, he then slipped south crossing the James River and came against Richmond from the south, via Petersburg. Pettersburg was the key supply route to Richmond. The campaign to take Petersburg began in June 1864 and ended with Petersburg and Richmond being lost in April 1865. It did not start as formal siege, but a series of battles centred around forts, often called batteries, and entrenchments. Later a formal siege resulted. 

The battlefield park covers a significant area, some 30 miles in length. The park is broken into three parts. The Eastern Front, the Western Front & Five Forks Battlefield. With limited time I only visited the Eastern Front section which is preserved in a single large block of land.

The park visitor centre has a significant display of artillery and howitzer barrels, without carriages, which proved extremely interesting. I for example didn’t realise that the Confederates produced some bronze rifles nor did I know that due to a lack of bronze in 1863 they started making iron 12pdr Napoleons.  

Of course the park focuses on the several forts, including the initial ones along the Dimmock Line such as Battery 5 below.  Each fort has a fascinating story to tell of course. Involving attack, counterattack and in some cases reuse. However, for me the lasting point was the evolution of field defences that had taken place over the Overland Campaign.

  

Above, a view of Battery 5 from the outside and below one section of the inside.

  

One of the monsters of Petersburg is the “Dictator” a 13″ sea coast mortar which fired a 225 pound exploding shell over two miles. The mortar below is not the actual Dictator, but rather another 13″ mortar. However, the Dictator was fired from this position during July, August and September 1864. To put the size of this monster in perspective it is slightly higher than me.

  

At one point in the park a reproduction of a fort is being built. It was rather fascinating and helped place the forts and trenches of the battlefield into a degree of perspective. The reproduction fortification is however the work of one volunteer who works on it as time permits. I had a most interesting talk with him, and he a break from what looked to be very hard work on a hot day.

  

It seems rain is a constant enemy to the works. 

 

The volunteer indicated the works deteriorate quickly, with fascines lasting just 12 months. Therefore he is both building and repairing now.  He is obviously taken some liberty with the logs to ensure they last but much of the material is sourced from the surrounding woods, which were not there in 1864.

 

Back to the tour. Another view of note was the crater, the result of a Union mine. 

  

This was the scene of horrific action, slaughter and where no quarter was given of African-American troops by Confederates during the southern counterattack. Arguably worse was that, Union white troops attacked African-American Union troops in an effort to ensure they may themselves gain quarter. The photo does not do the crater, in particular its depth or its width, justice.

Of course I’ve only covered a portion of the Petersburg battlefield here. That said, I found the development of trenches and fortifications over the duration of the Overland Campaign fascinating.

Malvern Hill

The final battle of the Seven Days campaign was Malvern Hill. Based on suggestions by others I had heard that the battlefield was generally well preserved, indeed it was. Historically the Confederate troops arrived on the battlefield in what can be described as a less than organised way followed by the attacks being piecemeal. Ironically, so was my arrival on the battlefield. I had a degree of trouble finding the battlefield and then finding the parking area. That said the battlefield was rather rewarding to visit.

As with Gaines’ Mill and other battlefields near Richmond only a portion of the battlefield is protected. However at Malvern Hill a significant proportion is. Further, that protected is in near historical condition.

Above, Confederate artillery looking across to Malvern Hill. The modern West House, built on the original West House on the battlefield in 1862, can be just seen on Malvern Hill. It’s a useful marker. Jackson’s artillery was effectively at 90 degrees left of this house, when viewed from here. This results in the Union gun line turning 90 degrees around the area of the West House. The James River is off, some distance, to the right and obscured.

The Confederate artillery were however deployed piecemeal and suffered to Union counter battery fire.

“Entering the field at the point where our artillery had been posted, I came upon numbers of dead and dying horses, who, with the drivers and gunners, laid in a pile together; their several dismantled guns, their caissons, fired and blown up by the enemy’s balls – all presenting an aspect of desolation and ruin.” John S. Hard, 7th South Carolina Infantry.

I walked from left, through the woods, having started at the remains of the parsonage. In the woods a significant number of Confederate infantry sheltered from the Union artillery. Having walked across behind the Confederate cannon I walked up the the right flank. In this area there was a noticeable, but gentle, slope down from the Confederate guns to a dip that ran across the battlefield where the woods on the left end. From that point the ground rises again to the Union gun line on Malvern Hill.

The photo below is taken around halfway up Malvern Hill around the area of the Slave Cabins which were historically behind me. It marks the forward position of Confederate infantry in their attacks.

It is worth noting that the Confederates were also under bombardment from Union gunboats operating on the James river.

Below, a photo from the Union gun line looking towards the Confederates. This shows the dip on the ground more clearly. The battlefield had both wheat and corn planted in 1862. To the front of the guns is corn. Given the date of the battle the corn would have been reasonably low. It was when I visited in most parts, due to the lack of growth.

Union guns of which there were 30 to 40, deployed across half a mile frontage. One battery, having six 12 pounder Napoleons, (Company A, 5th U.S. artillery) alone fired 1392 rounds of shell and canister.


I always seem to be surprised by a few aspects of each battlefields, Malvern Hill was the short distance between some Union infantry and Confederates. Below, on the right flank of the main Union gun line deployed forward were Union infantry under Couch (left) and Barlow (right). Confederates were around 150 metres away in the woods and Parsonage.


The Parsonage, included here as it looks rather odd, with only the chimneys remaining.


Another very interesting battlefield.

Gaines’ Mill

Due to some technical difficulties I’ve fallen behind with my posts. To keep things fresh I’ll post a short post on the last two battlefields visited today, forming part of the Richmond National Park area, then catchup on yesterday’s battlefields. The Richmond Battlefield Parks are actually a series of battlefields and historical sites in and around Richmond with most being east of Richmond. I’ve decided to visit three main sites in the outer Richmond area. The first I will cover is Gaines’ Mill, from the 1862 Seven Days Campaign.

Gaines’ Mill was one of the early battles of the Seven Days Campaign, fought soon after Lee had taken command. Unfortunately the battlefield park, like many others in the Peninsula Campaign, covers only a portion of the battlefield. Despite the limited area it was a very enjoyable visit.

The battlefield is focuses on the Confederate right flank. One of the more obvious features of the battlefield is the historical Watt House, which isn’t actually open to the public. Unfortunately, the picture below isn’t that great given the lighting on the day.

The house sits behind the Union front line. In front of the house, behind where I’m standing, is Boatswain Swamp and beyond this the Confederate positions. Behind the house is Turkey Hill.

This photo provides greater perspective. Watt Lane is bordered by split rail fencing, in the distance is Watt House. Boatswain Swamp is down the slope on the left of the photo running parallel to the lane. Union troops used the historical fences to create hasty fortifications in the woods to the left.

As you can see Watt House sits on is reasonably flat area but the slope down to Boatswain Swamp is surprisingly steep. The Confederate attacks came across this swamp, which lies in a gully, and up the Union slope eventually exiting the woods on the left.

Interpreting the signs the wooded area that now covers the area of the swamp and hillside I believe the wood is historical, but expanded. With such things interpreting the original terrain verses the current can be confusing. Given the location of Watt House I imagine the woods were “farmed” so thinned and generally open.

Above, in the area of the Union line that ran along and in the woods. The slope runs down to the swamp on the right. The Watt House plateau to the left. John Bell Hood’s Brigade of Texans crossed the swamp a little further from where this photo was taken.

When I visited the swamp was more of a creek, but as I moved further south the creek widened to a narrow but notable swampy area where Longstreet’s troops crossed, shown below.

Slightly further along, still heading south, was the following memorial to the Alabama Brigade of Longstreet’s Division. Again, the lighting was not kind to my photography.

The memorial reads:

“Brigadier General Cadmus M. Wilcox. Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade, Longstreet’s Division, Army of Northern Virginia, CSA. Near here on June 27, 1862, three Confederate brigades under General Cadmus M. Wilcox ascended this hill, broke the Union line and later assisted in capturing a battery of artillery. Wilcox’s own Alabama Brigade spearheaded the charge. Losing nearly 600 men killed and wounded of the 1850 soldiers in the four regiments.”

Finally, Union artillery, which were able to fire through gaps in the trees at Confederates across the swamp. These guns represent the 5th Massachusetts Battery that engaged Confederates breaking through, before retiring themselves.

“They rushed through the woods over the brook, now filled with dead bodies, closing their ranks as fast as our fire mowed them down…The woods were full of smoke, and the bullets buzzed round our heads like a swarm of angry bumblebees…My horse had a bullet in its flank and one sergeant’s horse lay dead on the ground.” Lt. Charles A. Phillips 5th Massachusetts Battery.

A small battlefield park, but one that highlighted some very interesting aspects of this battle.

The Wilderness

Its been a busy and long day, but after Chancellorsville I moved on to the Wilderness Battlefield. They along with two other battlefields are in the same park area. Further, Chancellorsville and the Wilderness effectively overlap.

The suggested tour here is more straight forward and generally follows the battle as it unfolds. The terrain significantly limits what can be seen and much of the Wilderness battlefield that is easily accessible concentrates on the areas of open fields.

After briefly stopping at Meade and Grant’s Knoll, which is unfortunatly overgrown my first notable stop was Saunders Field. Locatedon the historic Orange Turnpike the field is significant in area. Below, is a small section where the 140th New York attacked Ewell’s Confederates in the tree line. The ground rises up  somewhat.

Below, a view from the Confederate lines on the north looking southeast across Saunders Field.

On the Confederate left the line extends a good mile north and there is a walking track which takes you to the area where Gordon attacked the Union right. I didn’t walk the entire way. Instead I walked a little way in to get an appreciation of the terrain. The woods are generally clearer now, but in 1864 they were a combination of mature trees, fallen trees and new growth. I suspect something like this section.

Given that 160,000 men were fighting here using tactics more designed for open fields the Wilderness was going to be a different battle. Some reports indicated the smoke from battle further reduced visibility as it hung about under the canopy.

On the Confederate side of Saunders Field, where Ewell’s Corps stretched south, some excellent examples of Confederate entrenchments remain. They stretch across the east end of the field and into the woods. Given they have been here for 150 years, exposed to the elements they must have been significant.


Traveling south there are a few fields of note including Chewning Field and Tapp Field. Chewning, below looking west, was much larger than I expected and was critically placed between Ewell and A.P. Hill’s Corps. It was also where Hill was almost captured.


Tapp Field borders the Orange Plank Road and was particularly significant in the battle. It was here that John Gregg’s Texas troops refused to charge unless Lee retired. Below, Confederate cannon on Tapp Field. In the distance Orange Plank Road and where Longstreet’s Corps entered the battle.


Below, another view this time towards Union lines across Tapp Field. We are about half way across and in the foreground are more entrenchments, this time from Longstreet’s troops. The Confederate and Union armies extended a considerable distance to the Confederate right but this area is not always part of the park. What is not formally marked with interpretation areas.


Finally, to finish off a photo of the Vermont monument near the Brock Road and Orange Plank Road. Interestingly, the same intersection that Jackson passed through a year earlier and I did today.

Chancellorsville 

Today it was time to head south and in due course I crossed the Rappahannock bound for The Chancellorsville Battlefield. Chancellorsville is, I feel, a fascinating battle yet one I’ve not tried to recreate on the wargames table. Why, well I’ve always been nervous that historically the Union player would always feel hard done by with Jackson turning up on his flank. That said I’ve pondered running it as a hidden scenario. In some ways however the the card scenario system included in the Volley & Bayonet rules could produce part of the surprise.

Anyway, my tour started at the visitor centre and the suggested tour route means the battle is not done in order. A necessity really given the Orange Turnpike is a major highway. My photos will not follow the course of the tour, but rather the battle, give or take some variation.

Let’s start with some entrenchment so near along Anderson’s line. Anderson & McLaw having stayed under direct command of Lee whil Jackson undertook his flank march. There are actually several locations where entrenchment so are visible. All are showing 150 years of erosion, yet remain interesting. You can see as the war develops the increasing importance placed on entrenchments.

I decided to embark on my own flank march and retraced the route that Jackson Corps took. Below, the Lee – Jackson bivouac point where the Lee determined to set the march in progress.

Next stop was the Catherine Furnace ruins where Jackson headed southwest and Georgian troops fought a covering action. The furnace was an iron forge, prior to the war deemed uneconomic it was bought back into production by the South.

The road today is apparently wider than it was in 1863 and kept unsealed to give it historic feel. I must say it was very thought provoking following this road trodden by 30,000 men and by 100 cannon and wagons. It stretched for several miles, eight if I recall the signs, with men marching four abreast.

Arriving late in the day on the Union left Jackson deployed his troops and attacked. The centre of his line was generally in the vicinity of this point, on the west of the park and just off the Orange Turnpike. Each side of this point Cenfederates stretched north and south for a mile. Coming out of the woods, behind me, the Confederates advanced east rolling up Howard’s Corps.

Moving east again we find ourselves in the area of the visitor centre which was the location of Jackson’ wounding by friendly fire, and this monument that marks the event as well as his evacuation.

Continuing slightly further east we come to the Chancellor House site, or the remains of the foundations. Joe Hooker was knocked over here by debris, but recovered sufficiently to continue commanding. It was and still is a busy crossroad.

Across the road and only faintly visible in the photo is the brick walls of a cemetery and Fairview. Which  also marks the Fairview Union gun line. I found this particularly interesting. Why you ask?

Because a number of Union gun pits were facing southeast. The remains of which can be discerned in the centre of the photo above. Clearly Howard was not alone in being surprised by Jackson’s attack from the west.

Now a couple of photos from the Confederate clearing at Hazel Grove looking down to the Union gun line at Fairview.

Described as one of the finest Confederate artillery success more than 30 Confederate guns were deployed here to bombard, successfully, the Union gun line at Fairview. Simultaneously the woods to each side where the scene of much desperate fighting.

Hazel Grove is about half the size as it was in 1863, likewise the corridor between it at Fairview is narrower. Even if Hazel Grove was twice the size in 1863 the artillery here must have been very restricted.

Well that brings a brief post on Chancellorsville to conclusion. I had heard that Chancellorsville was not the best of battlefields to visit. While it is very different to those I’ve visited so far, I found it extremely interesting.